Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
  • Time: 124 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Olivier Assayas
  • Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Kristen Stewart, Juliette Binoche


At the peak of her international career, Maria Enders is asked to perform in a revival of the play that made her famous twenty years ago. But back then she played the role of Sigrid, an alluring young girl who disarms and eventually drives her boss Helena to suicide. Now she is being asked to step into the other role, that of the older Helena. She departs with her assistant to rehearse in Sils Maria; a remote region of the Alps. A young Hollywood starlet with a penchant for scandal is to take on the role of Sigrid, and maria finds herself on the other side of the mirror, face to face with an ambiguously charming woman who is, in essence, an unsettling reflection of herself.


  • Time has never been a friend to actresses, who are far more vulnerable to its passage than their male counterparts. Youth is prized above all else, leaving the more mature to perhaps cling a little too tightly to the appearance of juvenescence for as long as possible. The Europeans, particularly the French, have been kinder to their actresses, nurturing their longevity with roles that celebrate their talents and acknowledge their seasoned beauty. Yet one has to wonder when looking at the current crop of actresses whether any of them can sustain a career like a Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Jeanne Moreau, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, or Maggie Smith.

    Olivier Assayas’ latest film Clouds of Sils Maria ponders this topic along with a slightly satirical look at the shifting playing field of celebrity culture. It also serves as an unabashed valentine to the art of acting and how performers weave their realities into the fiction. The story concerns a decision made by actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) – a famous international actress who has appeared in both European films and Hollywood blockbusters, much like Binoche herself – who has reluctantly agreed to star in a stage revival of Majola Snake, the play that catapulted her to stardom when she was 18 years old.

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  • (Rating: ☆☆ out of 4)

    This film is not recommended.

    In brief: Despite the fine acting by its stars, the film left me in the fog.

    GRADE: C+

    Writer/Director Olivier Assayas’ latest film, Clouds of Sils Maria, is essentially a character study of a woman unable to accept her own future. This leisurely-paced (meaning S-L-O-W) drama works fitfully on various levels as it targets ageism and the quest to attain success in our youth-oriented world. If only, the film would have been more passionate or anger about those issues and not so clinical and removed. Oh, Life! Oh, Youth!

    Life imitates art. Its stranger-than-fiction aspect relating to show business is never fair, especially as women age. Its ironic bitter sting does cut deeply. For that matter, beauty may also be skin deep, but it still sells. Case in point: Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders, an older actress relegated to playing more mature roles. On her way to honor a colleague in the small Swiss village of Sils in the Alps, with her loyal assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart) overseeing her every whim, Maria begins to question her own existence and goals. She is also slated to work on a play revival starring a trendy Hollywood starlet (Chloe Grace Moritz) in the role Maria originated some twenty years ago. This time around, she will be playing the role of the older woman. No, life is not going smoothly in her autumn years and she is not ready for that close-up!

    In Maria’s world, both her real-life role and that of her character in the play, Helena, seem to merge rather seamlessly. Assayas purposely blurs these lines as Maria and Valentin rehearse the lines for her play while acting those parts. It is those scenes between Ms. Binoche and Ms. Stewart that give the film its needed energy and gravitas. The actresses have a wonderful chemistry together and their bonding seems totally natural and true. They are the real reason for seeing Clouds of Sils Maria. (The less said about Ms. Moritz in a poorly written role the better. That she made the character unconvincing could only be the highest compliment.)

    Creative, but heavy-handed in its overt symbolism (those foreboding clouds!), the film connects the lives of servant and employer as identity issues are intertwined and begin to shift. (Other films like Robert Altman’s Three Women, Joseph Losey’s The Servant, and Ingmar Bergman’s Persona handled this conceit more effectively.) However, it is when the film turns metaphysical and loses focus, when that ominous cloud formation finally materializes and causes some irreversible changes in their lives, that the film comes off labored and too odd for comfort.

    The film becomes a ode to survival and a psychological treatise on aging, but judicious editing could have certainly helped, as I felt that I aged years watching this intellectual trifle. The film spends too many endless scene pontificating and never builds to any satisfying resolution. Clouds of Sils Maria gets lost in its own foggy notion of art.

    Perhaps the question Assayas should ask is not “Does life imitate art?” Rather, “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” Answer: Rewrites.

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  • Olivier Assayas is a highly intelligent filmmaker, and often draws on his roots as a critic for Cahiers du Cinéma in his highly structured stories. His latest film, Clouds of Sils Maria stars Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart.

    Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is a successful actor, who began her career in the play Maloja Snake by Wilhelm Melchior. Enders and Melchior have a difficult past relationship and as Enders is travelling to Zurich to accept an award on his behalf, she hears the troubling news that he has passed away. Maria has a loyal assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart), and the two are very close; she helps Maria with the news. Soon Maria is offered a role in the latest version of the play, however she’ll be playing an older woman.

    This is a very French film. It revels in the revival of an artistic era that doesn’t necessarily exist any more, subtly poking fun at the ways of Hollywood, superhero movies and celebrity gossip. These are starkly contrasted against the passion that the characters put into the play; in trying to understand the production’s characters with long conversations detailing their various attributes. One of the key elements of Clouds of Sils Maria is the relationship between Maria and Valentine, and more specifically, how this is played on when they do the script read-throughs. These scenes are sometimes a bit tedious and difficult to follow – as the lines between the play’s characters and the two women are quite blurred – but they are managed with a lot of finesse from Binoche and Stewart. There’s certainly an element of art imitating life in the film; between the play, the film and also real life. However there are certain details that are not followed through, which at times can be slightly confusing. For instance, I would have liked to understand a bit more about what Maria thought of her past career. She’s constantly focusing on her previous role in the play but doesn’t really vocalise any of her other roles.

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